2013 Ford Taurus- Not Such Bullish Aspirations

DSCI0235In Greek mythology, Theseus was considered to be the founding hero of Athens and the reformer of religion and social order.  Under his rule came the political unification of Attica under Athens and a stronger, more resilient city.  Despite his efforts, he lost popularity in later years and was thrown off a cliff by Skyros.  The Ford Taurus has had a similar rise and fall.  Introduced in 1986 as an all-cards-on-the-table gamble for ailing Ford, the Taurus was nothing short of revolutionary.  Being bruised and battered from financial woes and questionable quality, Ford’s future was dependant on the success of the Taurus .  The smooth, aero “jellybean” styling, thoughtful interior touches, and Euro-inspired performance proved that Detroit could indeed build a world-class product that was worth buying.  Personally, I consider it to be one of the most influential automobiles of all time; applying new features and technology we take for granted today.  The risk paid off, and not only did the Taurus receive numerous awards from journalists and was copied by competitors, but it catapulted its way to being America’s best-selling car throughout the late 80’s and 90’s.  However an equally daring, but less enticing, redesign for 1996 caused the car to lose its sales crown, and new-found profits in SUV’s during the early 2000’s resulted in Ford neglecting the Taurus completely.  The car that had saved and served Ford so well stagnated for years before finally being killed off in 2006.  Unlike poor ol’ Theseus, the Taurus was able to come back from the dead and a quick rebadge of the little-known Five Hundred brought the revered and famous name back to the Ford stable.  Finally, in 2010, Ford acknowledged that they can’t live without the name badge and introduced a brand new generation of the bullish car that was designed to be a Taurus from the ground up.  

DSCI0168Don’t let the name fool you though.  This current Taurus isn’t aspiring to be the top-seller that it once was.  That job has been left to the smaller Fusion.  The present-day Fusion is still slightly larger than the original Taurus (three inches in length longer and 500 lbs. heavier) and, among Ford’s warriors, is the chosen one to combat the Taurus’ old foes; the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.  The current Taurus is enjoying a more leisurely position than it once did, now indirectly filling the full-size premium niche left behind by the deceased Crown Victoria.  Being over a foot longer and 900 lbs. heavier than the ’86 Taurus, the current reiteration’s main competition comes from the equally hefty Nissan Maxima, Chrysler 300, and Buick LaCrosse.

CAM00111Although the Taurus doesn’t have the bench seat and column shifter that traditional American sedans, such as the Crown Vic, once did, it’s still a good modern interpretation of those cars.  The creamy leather seats are vast and super-sized enough to house the largest of bottoms.  The cushioning feels Charmin soft in the spots that need it most.  This is truly a car that would feel comfortable eating up the miles on a cross-country road trip while  steering with one finger on the wheel .

CAM00104Front space is expansive in regards to leg and head room.  Even though the center console is as wide as a Jewish deli’s counter, surprisingly it doesn’t infringe upon precious knee space, which are issues in the Focus and Fusion.  The long reach to the pedals and firewall help in this regard.  Nicely padded armrests in the front doors and on the center storage shelf ensure a comfortable leaning stance while driving.  Those opulent leather front seats provide the right amount of firmness as well, but the seat bottoms are a little flat and low to the ground.  Both front seats are power operated and height adjustable, and along with a tilt and telescoping wheel, a comfortable driving position is easy to find.  There’s just a casual, relaxed atmosphere while settling in the driver’s seat.

CAM00102The news from the rear isn’t as good.  The back seat remains as plush as the front, but space is lacking for such a bulky car.  Head room is severely compromised for taller folks due to the sloping roofline and some passengers may find themselves in the chin-to-chest or “slanted-head curious dog” positions.  Leg room isn’t terrible, but not what you’d expect from a large car.  Knees will rub against the front seat backs if a taller CAM00103occupant is up front.  Luckily, the amenities are relatively nice back there; including a fold-down center armrest, cupholders, door pockets, and air vents.

Due to wide swinging doors and large openings, entry and exit for taller folks is easy.  However, a shorter female colleague noted that due to the low front seats, it was difficult for her feet to swing over the tall door rail and reach the ground when climbing out.  After several attempts during the test, she still had trouble getting out. 

DSCI0170The Taurus was modestly restyled for 2013 and although not ground breaking like Tauri of the past, it is still a handsome machine.  The biggest difference this year is the substantial trapezoid grille on the front, adding a more aggressive flare over the friendly face of the 2010-2012 models.  The long hood, high beltline, and chunky back-end are unashamedly American and the overall look is clean and cohesive.  The DSCI0167rectangular tailights look a little unimaginative during the day but light-up with an appealing  LED surround at night .  Lastly, fake chrome side vents are never a good idea and come across as being desperate, even though they do flaunt a bold font reading “TAURUS”.  The slab sides don’t hide this car’s girth, but a crease line running from those cheesy side vents along the doors breaks up the vast expanse.  The car does certainly carry a presence and its lines are not fussy.  I boldly predict that this design will age gracefully with time.

CAM00105Inside, the big and beautiful theme continues.  In true Yankee style, everything feels super-sized.  From the aforementioned seats and console, to the steering wheel and grab handles, everything feels about 8/7 scale to a regular car.  The twin cowl dash mimics the Mustang and Ford is going for a clean look with minimal buttons and conservative touches of chrome.  As with many recent blue-oval vehicles, this Taurus features the Ford MyTouch, cleaning up space otherwise taken up by the radio and ventilation controls.  Many audio and air conditioning adjustments are handled by the prominent 4.2 inch touch screen in the center of the dash. Base model Taurii receive an onslaught of radio buttons that are cluttered and unsightly.  The MyTouch makes a big difference in cleaning up the center stack.

CAM00108It has been a love-hate…….well actually mostly hate, relationship with MyTouch ever since it debuted over two years ago on the Ford Edge.  I have personally found it distracting and finicky; often not responding to commands properly and having too many menus to swim through while making simple adjustments.  The system seemed half-baked and rushed onto the market before being tested properly.  Ford and Microsoft did CAM00109promise upgrades in response to complaints, as well as to criticisms of reliability and system crash issues.  Microsoft came through on this commitment and is now offering the second 3.5.1 version on the 2013 Taurus.  Although not as straightforward as the touch screen on the Chevrolet Volt and some other vehicles, the new system is much less frustrating and more manageable.  Making radio adjustments were simple and there is an infinite amount of personalization options for tuning, connectivity, and language.  The only issue I did encounter was that while changing sound settings, the system would unexpectedly alter the volume or other programs.  Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither were the bugs in MyTouch resolved.  Although I’m a traditionalist and prefer old-fashioned knobs and buttons, the new program is tolerable and a huge improvement over the original.  The screen is a magnet for dust, and finger prints will be constantly present on the interface.  Ford was smart enough to use real knobs for fan speed and radio volume, two commonly used adjustments, just below the screen.

CAM00110The other ventilation controls also take away driver focus.  The buttons are placed towards the bottom of the center stack, out of sight, and are capacitive.  They look sleek and are flush to the dash, adding to a Star Trek vibe, but also can’t be adjusted just by touch alone as…well….they can’t be felt. 

CAM00095The instrument panel is also an electronic screen and is as equally slick as the MyTouch.  There are endless personalization options here as well, including metric measurements, and even more impressively, the driver can choose to display the tachometer, temperature gauge, or fuel gauge, or all three at once.  What is displayed at any given time is clear, concise, CAM00106and easy to read.  Browsing through the menus is done with a jumble of buttons housed in the steering wheel, along with the cruise control and bluetooth.  They seem overwhelming at first, but make sense after a while, yet still take away too much driver attention.  The window sill is high and some roof pillars are thick, adding to a claustrophobic and confined feeling in the large cabin.  Backing up can be a guessing game due to the high decklid and narrow mailslot rear window.  Like many other Fords, the Taurus does feature folding, convex side mirrors to help minimize those blind spots.

CAM00107The Taurus excels at storage space.  That wide center console houses no less than four bins, including a large one incorporating the armrest and dual AUX connections, along with generous door pockets, cupholders, massive glove box and sunglasses holder.  There is a spot for any of your kick-knacks.  At 20.1 cubic feet, the trunk of the Taurus is just plain colossal, handily outclassing the Buick LaCrosse, Chrysler CAM00101300, Nissan Maxima, and Chevrolet Impala, by at least three cubic feet compared to the next biggest in cargo carrying.  Not only is the space back there immense, but the trunk is square, well-shaped, and has little wheelwell intrusion.  Trunk hinges are the expensive and elaborate gas strut variety and won’t crush any goodies back there.  The seats do fold 60/40 and CAM00100the tethers to fold them down are conveniently in the cabin.  The pass through to the cabin does seem a little narrow for wider objects.  Below the cargo floor is a spare tire.  Major kudos to Ford for putting a thorough effort on cargo hauling; if you’re into that sort of thing.

The big news for 2013 on the performance front is the optional 2.0 liter turbocharged Ecoboost four-cylinder pounding out 240 horsepower and offering an impressive EPA rating of 32mpg highway.  Ours had the traditional Ohio-built Duratec 3.5 liter V6 that has been on the Taurus since 2008, but this powerplant has also received new tricks up its sleeve this year.  Power is up by 25 horsepower over the 2012 model to a grand total of 288.  That may pale to the SHO’trims’s 365, but a normally aspirated Taurus, such as ours, is no slouch.  The engine is robust and pulls the car from a standstill with authority.  Wheels spin is common, even with the traction control switched on and desperately fighting it, and the V6 readily pulls this car to well over 80mph without running out CAM00099of breath.  Passing power is on tap at anytime and this large sedan always feels brisk.  The surge of thrust is strong and impressive from a standstill to well over freeway speed limits.  The engine’s angry growl is prevalent at higher rpms, but stays hushed under most conditions.  Otherwise, the cabin is well insulated from outside road and wind noise, which is only noticeable at higher speeds. 

DSCI0166Getting all of that impressive oomph to the pavement is a delectable six-speed automatic transmission.  Ford seems to have had many issues in the past orchestrating the perfect automatic, but they have come close to it on this car.  Shifts were continually well-timed and non-intrusive.  Necessary downshifts when passing or climbing hills were immediate and fluid.  There was some jerk during a full throttle downshift, but that had more to do with the engine’s responsiveness than a gearing issue.  Again another improvement for 2013 is the addition of a manumatic mode, but the transmission was so polished that there was no need to revert to it.  Loyal SHO fans will be disappointed that no manual transmission is available on any Taurus. 

It’s obvious that Ford has gone to great lengths with the handling of this big sedan.  On a mountain curve, this weighty Taurus feels smaller than it really is.  The car has impressive grip through the 17in. tires and holds the road tenaciously.  There’s little back-end slide and, although it doesn’t match anything with a German nameplate, the Taurus remains well-planted.  This could be in part by the new Torque Vectoring system implemented by Ford this year.  It’s an advanced computer-controlled differential system that continuously monitors traction between the two front driving wheels and transfers torque between the two tires depending on conditions and steering input.  If one wheel loses traction, it will send more power to the other for more road adherence.  The system is almost transparent, DSCI0244but it works brilliantly.  Steering is electronic this year replacing the old hydraulic system and adjusts with the speed of the vehicle.  It feels pleasantly light at parking lot speeds and becomes noticeably tighter at highway velocities.  However, there is pronounced torque steer due to the powerful engine and like many other electric power steering systems, feedback can be vague and artificial at times.

A well- sorted four-wheel independent suspension provides a smooth and relaxing ride on most road surfaces.  Small to moderate sized bumps were soaked up with finesse and without issue.  However, some of the larger chasms on L.A.’s pothole-ridden streets were able to startle the Taurus’ underpinnings and the car would skip and bound over them.  The steering would also get excited if the surfaces became too rough and the car would meander off course. 

DSCI0236Our Taurus had 12k miles on the clock at time of rental.  Mechanically the car was in good shape and the trim had aged well, particularly the vulnerable cream-colored leather seats.  The only quality issue was a very annoying rattle coming from the  center speaker placed above the Ford MyTouch screen.  Pressing down on the speaker cover would hinder the noise, but it was located in a prominent spot that is impossible to ignore while driving.

CAM00097The 3.5 V6 is a flex fuel motor but during the test I only used regular 87 octane unleaded.  Like many Fords, the Taurus features a capless filler.  It is convenient and one less item to worry about, even though in my usual ditzynesss, feel like I forgot something after filling up.  The EPA rates a 3.5 liter Taurus at 19mpg/city and 29mpg/highway.  In mostly city driving, but some freeway runs, I averaged a palty 19mpg.  Those concerned about fuel economy may be better off going for the EcoBoost four-cylinder.

DSCI0169Prices on a base Taurus SE start at $26,700 with a healthy dose of standard equipment: 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, integrated blind spot mirrors, LED taillights, an exterior access keypad, cruise control, air-conditioning, a six-way power driver seat (manual recline), a 60/40-split-folding rear seat, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and a six-speaker sound system with CD player and an auxiliary DSCI0243audio jack..  Going to an SEL, like our tester, adds 18-inch wheels, heated mirrors, remote ignition, dual-zone automatic climate control, upgraded cloth upholstery, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, satellite radio and the Sync system, which allows you to control Bluetooth phones, iPods and other media players through voice commands and the car’s controls and startsCAM00092 at $28,900.  Our Taurus also came with the optional leather upholstery and the $800 201A package (adding the squeaky additional instrument panel center channel speaker, reverse sensing system, and MyFord Touch with two driver configurable 4.2″ color LCD displays in instrument cluster, 8.0″ LCD color touch-screen in center stack, Two 5-way controls located on steering wheel and media hub with 2 USB ports, SD card reader, RCA video/audio input jacks, SYNC voice activated communications and entertainment system that allows integration of mobile phones and handheld media players via Bluetooth technology and USB connectivity.  Once destination was added, the total MSRP on our Taurus was $31,990.  Considering that a base version of the more compact  Maxima comes with cloth seats and fewer tech features and begins just north of $32k, the Taurus does represent good value.

DSCI0171Although the Taurus is no longer the fierce competitor that it once was, it still offers an appealing package.  The numerous tweaks for 2013 and upgrades to the engine and technology have made this car more of a stand out.  Those expecting the acres of space of the old Crown Victoria will be disappointed and the Taurus isn’t as spacious as its exterior would suggest.  Otherwise, it’s a more appealing vehicle than the bargain basement Maxima and is cheaper than the equally advanced and comfortable LaCrosse.  Overall, it’s a worthy rendition of an American classic that thankfully wasn’t pushed off a cliff.  A decent 3.5/5.0 boomerangs

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